As President Trump leveled his rhetoric against U.S. cities that sought to protect immigrants from his plans for massive deportations, Metro-DC Democratic Socialists of America moved to stiffen the resolve of DC elected officials to fight back.
On Jan. 31, the local sent a letter to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and all 13 District councilmembers urging them not to be intimidated by Trump's threats to withhold federal funds from the "sanctuary" cities that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in identifying and handing over suspected undocumented residents. Many U.S. cities have promised varying degrees of resistance, from declining active cooperation, to more aggressive measures that include active assistance to immigrants fighting deportation. Others, like Miami-Dade, Fla., quickly capitulated to Trump's threats and promised collaboration with the feds.
The District has already taken measures to aid non-citizen immigrants in DC, including a program announced by Mayor Bowser in January to provide $500,000 for legal services such as converting green cards to citizenship, conducting workshops to advise immigrants of their rights, and assisting children whose parents or guardians face deportation. In her reply to DSA's letter, Ward I Councilmember Brianne Nadeau noted that she would seek additional funding for the program in the upcoming DC budget. One other member responded to the letter: Ward 4 member Brandon Todd, who affirmed his support for the District as a sanctuary city.
Even as cities across the country declare themselves as sanctuaries â€“ including San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York -- DC has come under special scrutiny for its policies toward immigrants due to its special status as a ward of Congress. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the House's appointed overseer of the District, has been threatening the District over its assistance to immigrants, demanding documents related to the program and insisting that it violates federal spending laws, with which other sanctuary cities -- whose budgets do not fall under the federal appropriations process -- are not obligated to comply. Chaffetz and other GOP members are likely try to use DC's budget -- which will come before Congress for approval this year, the only city or state budget which must do so -- to attach riders aimed at undoing DC's program to aid immigrants. It will then be up to congressional Democrats to attempt to block it the legislation, and to DC elected officials -- including Bowser and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton -- to mobilize DC residents to fight back.
So far, the "fightback" from DC officials has been a fairly quiet one. Back on January 25 Bowser declared that DC was and would continue to be a sanctuary city, but has largely been silent since then in the face of Congressional attacks against the city's stance. Norton mentioned the sanctuary issue only in passing in a statement objecting to Congressional interference in a number of areas, including the city's death-with-dignity bill (it took effect in mid-February when Congress declined to block it), DC's gun laws, and local programs to provide abortions for poor women. In the end, as DSA's letter indicated, the critical actors will be "the citizens of the District who can be mobilized to take to the streets, walk the halls of Congress and speak to their friends and relatives -- within and without DC -- to rally them to the city's cause."
Frustrated by Congress' continued control over the District's budget and laws, as well as their lack of voting members to call to complain about Trump's awful nominations, dozens of DC residents gathered on Feb. 15 to make a pitch for the only real solution -- DC statehood.
The lobby day, organized by a coalition of pro-statehood organizations, had DC citizens walking the halls of Congress to meet with members or members' staffers (mostly the latter) who did not represent them, making the case for granting the District the same rights as all other taxpaying US citizens.
Even though statehood has zero chance of passage in a government under full Republican control, the message of the lobby day was: We're here, we will not be silent, and we will be back as often as necessary.